Free Motion Quilting on Patterned Fabrics


As I mentioned earlier in the week, judging by comments and letters I receive, YOUR favorite days of the week here at The Inbox Jaunt are Tuesday (Tutorials) and (Silent) Sundays. I love Tuesdays and Sundays, but MY FAVORITE day is (Open Line) Fridays.  I absolutely love the “Newbie” advice you provided last week…HERE and thought the discussion on quilt abbreviations HERE was hysterical!  YOU are all so creative–and not just with your stitching!

Mini Log Cabin Quilt, Purple


I’ve received several questions about using the quilt motifs on patterned fabric.  (Find more than 75 free motion quilt tutorials HERE.)   I do all the tutorials on solid fabric so that you can see them best, but all of the motifs look great on printed fabrics as well.  Mini Log Cabin Quilt, Purple

The effect is more subtle on printed fabrics, but at different angles of light, you will see the patterns and you will see the nice textured effect.  That being said, I would save the most intricate free motion quilting for areas of the quilt that have low contrast patterns.

Mini Log Cabin Quilt, Purple

In this miniature quilt, the quilting is very subtle-more texture than anything.  The highly patterned, multi-colored purple fabric hides the quilting.  (The low-contrast gray fabric would have revealed more quilting–however, I wanted the more subtle effect.)

Mini Log Cabin Quilt, Purple

The following images were sent in by a reader–thank you, Peggy!

Peggy R.  Free Motion Quilting.

Peggy R. Free Motion Quilting.

The quilting looks great on all fabric types…depending on the angle of the light.

Peggy R.  Free Motion Quilting.

Peggy R. Free Motion Quilting.


When you really want to showcase a free motion quilt motif:

  • Choose solid or low contrast prints.
  • Use  contrasting thread.
  • Use  heavier thread.
  • Add unpieced, solid or low-contrast fabric blocks to your design 
  • Stitch samples of different thread:  fiber, weight and color.

Mini Log Cabin Quilt, Purple

Whether your fabric is solid or patterned, the quilt motifs found HERE will look great.  The best way to judge the quilting effect:   STITCH SAMPLES!  I know it takes a few extra minutes….think NIKE–Just Do It!


Love to hear…


26 thoughts on “Free Motion Quilting on Patterned Fabrics

  1. When I plan the quilting for my quilt, I try to decide what I want to accentuate, the quilting or the fabric for any particular section. On my last quilt, I used a feather around the border in a lighter color than the fabric and then echoed the edge in a darker color thread. I was surprised at what a difference it made. However in a smaller more central border, I wanted the quilting more for texture so I used a thread that blended with the fabric. You can see the quilting in some light angles but when looking at the quilt straight on you see the fabric. Lori, your tutorials have expanded my free motion quilting amazingly. Thank you.


    • Mary, That sounds lovely. I have never tried using lighter color and then a darker thread to echo. I will definitely give that a try. Any chance you could post photos to Flickr?

  2. I always struggle with the thread color especially on quilts with lots of different fabrics ( like when using a charm pack) and white space. I don’t want to have to change threads constantly for an all over pattern. Any ideas would be appreciated.

    • Dottie, I usually do all of one color and then go back and do the next. That way I avoid changing as I go. I also find I usually do the all over motif in a beige or grey color and then use the other colors as accent colors to embellish the quilting.

    • I really like using variegated thread for quilting. You can use a subtle tonal (i.e. several shades of green) or multicolored variegation to pull in many colors from the charm pack fabrics.

    • Hi Dottie,
      Thread color is definitely a challenge…light gray is often a good color for blending. I often use a grayed version of whatever color I’m working on–sage green or dull purple… I prefer white thread on white fabric unless you are looking for a specific effect. A lot of people use monofilament thread for blending–I do not because it gives me a “tension headache”. I will use two or three colors of thread sometimes–quilting all the areas that require one color and then moving on to the second color. (Which is easy on a domestic machine!) Samples are important here!

  3. One of my favorite threads to use is variegated thread. I love how it changes color in the quilting, but always use one that has short color changes, an inch or so, so the thread change isn’t drastic. There are so many gorgeous variegated threads out there now, it’s fun to add to my “stash” with those.

    • Hi Roxanne,
      I don’t use variegated threads that often because I find the colors change too abruptly, but I do think they work well for patterned fabrics and for some effects. Do you have a brand you like for short color changes?

      • I’m not Roxanne, but Superior Thread’s King Tut and Rainbows has 1″ color changes – the shortest I have found. On some of their variegated thread it is really hard to see the color change because it is so subtle. One of my favorite colors is the Rainbows All Spice – quilted on black it looks like molten copper!

  4. My thoughts while reading this had to do with the “backing” fabric. The same rules apply — do you want the quilting to show or not on the back? I usually suggest a busy patterned fabric for the backing when machine quilters are first starting, then move to a more solid/plain print later on to “show off” their quilting. A lot of times, you end up with a truly beautiful reversible quilt!!

  5. Rosemary B here:
    This is a REALLY pretty quilt. I adore the colors and pattern.

    I always learn from everyone else’s comments on your blog

  6. Hi Lori

    I found your blog a year ago and I look forward to Tuesdays the most. So many patterns I sometimes can’t decide which ones to use in my quilts. Thank you so much your tutorials are wonderful.

    I think the most important thing to remember when giving advice to a newbie is make sure your comments don’t discourage them from quilting altogether. Some of the experienced ladies in my local quilt group can be very harsh with the things they say and do more damage them help unintentionally.

    • I formed a Free Movers bee/class for some beginning quilters in our guild. I developed a structured curriculum that continually builds on prior lessons. But the most important thing has been to observe and praise the little improvements that the quilters are making, such as improved rhythm or stitch length control, or making better arcs, and only then making a gentle suggestion on how to modify the way they are stitching a given design. I agree that our role must always be to encourage, not discourage, folks who are beginning to quilt.

  7. Don’t forget you are allowed to go back over the design a second, third or fourth time if you want the design to show up a little more on patterned fabric.

  8. Ooh, YES!! I DO have a question for you and your readers! Because I am a crazy person, I agreed to put together a raffle quilt for my son’s 5th grade class contribution to the school’s annual fundraiser. In three weeks. Go ahead, laugh at me!! I scanned in their acrylic painting artwork (that they did in art class several months ago) and printed it onto those EQ inkjet printer fabric sheets, which came out pretty cool. So I have 22 rectangular blocks made from 8 1/2″ x 11″ fabric sheets, each printed with a different student’s artwork. I framed each block with a complementary batik or hand marbled fabric, and I’m probably going to add borders out of a Kaffe Fasset fabric I picked up at my LQS yesterday… But the quilt top, sans borders is assembled — So my mad quilting phase is creeping up around the corner!

    My secret motive for taking on this project in the first place was getting a bit of FMQ practice. I know I’ll stitch in the ditch first with monofilament, but then I wanted to practice background fills in the blocks themselves, patterns that enhance the students’ abstract nature designs (you can see what they look like here: Basically, I’m going to be custom quilting large scale printed fabric blocks.

    Now for the question: What do you suggest as far as thread type, thread color, and fill patterns for the blocks? I have a few shades of neutral 50/2 Aurifil, several different 40 weight variegated YLI machine quilting thread that might be fun, plus a box full of rayon embroidery thread. My goal is to complement the students’ artwork, not to upstage them. Not that my FMQ skills are all that great… But I did especially want to use some of Lori’s wonderful tutorials. Any and ALL advice and suggestions greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance! 🙂

    • To newbies one of the first things i learned from Lori to help with quilting intimidating larger quilts is to section them off…they didn’t seem so large in my head that way. Also i used all of Lori’s great tutorials at Christmas time on tree skirts i made my girls that were beautiful Christmas prints and the quilting looked great.

  9. Thanks for the info. I like the idea of a variegated thread but would probably use a different color for the white space

  10. I have found on a quilt with many fabrics and colors I tend to go with a monofilament thread if I just want to showcase the stitching and not draw attention to the thread color. I will use it in both upper and bobbin and sometimes just upper or just bobbin depending on what effect I want. I’m another Tues fan but I also love Fridays, it’s so interesting getting everyone’s opinons and thoughts on quilting.

  11. I have never used monofilament thread. I’ve used over 30 different colors of thread on a customer’s quilt. I usually SID with the lightest color, but I’ve been known to use anything that works! I rarely do an all-over quilting pattern and generally do custom, so I am tying off my threads all the time. I try to do all of one color of thread before moving on to the next color. I usually turn my quilts on the frame so I can do all the borders in one pass, without having to constantly roll it. I used to use only variegated thread (King Tut or Rainbows by Superior Threads), but I have found myself tending to use more of their Sew Fine #50 solids that match or highly contrast with the fabric.

We'd LOVE to hear! Please reply...